Sunday, July 8, 2007

Swiss Peaks in the Willamette Valley.

It is fifteen past six o’clock and the sun is beginning to peer above the valley’s ridge with its earliest rays protruding through my exposed bedroom window. My cell phone is ringing in accordance to this morning hour, which I had preset five hours prior as a wake-up call. I alertly reach across my surprisingly rested body and grasp the device, pressing my index finger against a button on the side of the phone that will quiet its noise. Immediately after doing so, I feel a bit disoriented since I hadn’t awoken in this bed in a couple of weeks, but I soon remember where I am and why I had set an alarm for such an early Sunday morning start…Wimbledon. The All England Club’s Gentleman’s Championship Match was scheduled to begin at nine o’clock EST and with my body still in sync with the daily’s activities of the east coast I had decided it wouldn’t be much of a stretch for me to awake around six o’clock PST and view the featured contest. There are many favorable connotations in my life that surround this particular sporting event; I spent a number of childhood, and later adolescent, summer days participating in tennis practices, camps, tournaments, etc. which were early memories for me that arose from viewing past Wimbledon tournaments. Initially I had taught myself the sport of tennis by spending early summer mornings with my breakfast in front of the television learning the unique system of scoring and specific mechanics displayed to near perfection by players such as Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Boris Becker. So it was on this morning, in a similar manner, that I flipped on the television and stretched my body out on a living room couch in anticipation to this year’s final between the current top two players in the world: Roger Federer of Switzerland and Rafeal Nadal of Spain.

Once the glow of the television warmed the living room’s interior, I was delighted to see the match underway and that I had only missed the first game, which was a rare break of serve on the four-time defending champion, Federer. This was a pleasant omen of sorts since I had my doubts to whether Nadal, the second seed, would pose much of a challenge to the consistent dominance of the Swiss on his choice surface of grass. However, Nadal is unable to consolidate the break and hold his own serve in the second game, and Federer sends a message that he understands the encapsulating sense of history surrounding him as he attempts to tie the modern day record of consecutive Wimbledon titles held by Bjorn Borg (5). Soon a confident Federer pounces on the tightness of Nadal and finds himself ahead two games to one, but Nadal eventually settles into the intensity of the moment and brings the first set to a tie-breaker through some great counterattacking ground strokes. The tiebreaker was controlled by the Swiss player until an overrule was announced on the apparent set-clinching point that initially halted his momentum, but once collected, Federer was able to cleanly strike a crisp backhand volley to take the first set tiebreak at nine to seven. The second set continued the high quality of play that characterized the end of the first, with players holding their serves and hitting a strong ratio of winners to unforced errors. Federer played to character in a manner that was consistent and never seeming to be extraneous, which may have been too relaxed of a prose when opposed to the Spaniards grit and sense of timely urgency. With the Swiss serving at four-all, Nadal struck a spectacular backhand from the seat of his pants that landed crosscourt for an unforeseeable winner and subsequent break of serve for the twenty-one year old Spaniard. Now having gained momentum of the match, Nadal was able to capitalize on what would be the best shot of the match to hold his next service game and win the second set by a score of six to four.

The closure of the second set presented an appropriate time to take a break, since it was becoming apparent that this best of five set match might go the distance. So I quickly ran to the kitchen and scanned the empty cupboards for an instant breakfast. Not having anything in the cupboards remaining to my possession, I decided on a bowl of couscous, which is not exactly the traditional strawberries and crème associated with the tournament, but will fill the immediate void and not leave the housemates too unsettled. Once the meal was hastily prepared, I returned to the living room and posted up on the other couch to note the two players are even on serve at two apiece. The players continue to exchange games, as Federer sends the match to three-all following a winner off of a diving Nadal volley that was initially ruled out, but swiftly overruled by the chair umpire. Federer plays the next games with uncharacteristic emotion, with the less experienced Nadal playing tentative with the culminating affect of netting an open court forehand, which could have produced two set point opportunities. Seizing the opening accompanying this rare miscue, Federer produces some needed momentum by stringing together a series of points and sends the third set to another tiebreaker, which he displays impressive skill to dominate at seven to three. The following set begins with Nadal abruptly ending Federer’s force from the previous set with a break that earns him the first game for the fourth straight set. This continued as the theme of the fourth set as the Spanish phenom would consolidate the break and then again win the next Federer service game and his own to take a commanding lead of the set at four to love. It was then, just as the match appeared to be slipping away from the champion, that Nadal requested extra time at the changeover to receive treatment for an apparent slight injury to his right knee. He would play the rest of the set with hesitation and ginger mobility, but nonetheless hold onto his large lead to win the fourth set at six to two.

The fifth and final set was now upon the captivated audience, myself included, and it appeared that the four-time champion might fall to the young Spanish professional, who is one of a few players to actually have a winning record over the world’s top player. Federer would win the first game, and the players would exchange victories in the following games, including the fifth and match’s most critical game. It was with the set tied at two that Nadal had double break point on Federer’s serve to gain a lead in this decisive fifth set. Unfortunately for Nadal, he hit a tentative forehand into the middle of the net and Federer regained his seemingly lost poise to retake control of the critical game. Furthering this momentum, the champion broke Nadal’s next service game for the first time since the first set, after connecting on a series of tremendous shots that skipped off the lines comprising the perimeter of the single’s court. It was after this second break of the match in which Federer would gain an insurmountable four to two lead that he would progress to a six to two fifth set triumph. The nearly four hour match would be completed by a punctuating overhead slam by Roger Federer into the advantage court, with the now five-time Wimbledon champion crumbling to the grass surface in a mix of astonishment and exhaust. He did not play his best tennis on this particular fortnight finale, but he performed just well enough to solidify his place with the greats of the game like Bjorn Borg and the player I viewed more than anyone else during my long past zenith in actual tennis performance, Pete Sampras.

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